Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 10, 2014

Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail: The Day Baker Crashed


Nothing could kept Baker off his bike for long.

Nothing could kept Baker off his bike for long – not even a crash nasty enough to summon a doctor.

(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we are recounting the daily exploits of Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, and his record-setting motorcycle run from San Diego to New York City of 11 days in 1914. A group of enthusiasts is re-creating his ride in 2014, and I am trying to keep up with them.)

On Day 7 of E. G. Baker’s ride from San Diego to New York City, in hopes of setting a transcontinental speed record, he crashed.

Riding through Kansas, on parts of the famed Santa Fe Trail, Baker was riding hard to catch up from previous delays caused by storms, getting stuck, running out of gas, and having to back-track to avoid road damage and washed-out bridges. It seemed interest in his ride was growing, and crowds were getting larger as he navigated through Kansas.

“I got into Dodge City O.K.,” he wrote in his logbook, “and had dinner, and the boys fixed me up with gasoline and lubricating oil. They wanted me to stop over and look at their new racetrack. But they forgot that I was out knocking minutes of a record.” Although he did eventually pass the place, and acknowledge, he kept riding hard.

“From Dodge City I rode right for Great Bend,” he continued. “Speck Warner, the Indian agent at Ellsworth, Kansas, met me 30 miles west of Great Bend, riding with me into Ellsworth, 80 miles.”

That’s where Baker had his second nasty encounter with wild dogs. Back on the third day of the trip, while riding through Apache territory, two dogs had attacked him; he had to dispatch them with the long-barrel .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that he had been given by a colleague worried about what he might encounter along the foreboding route ahead. But Baker had personally emerged unscathed from that encounter.

This time he wasn’t so lucky.

“We had an interruption caused by a large shepherd dog,” he wrote, “which came very near to putting me out of my transcontinental trip.”

The dog went after his front tire. Despite efforts to shoo the dog away, it would not cease its attack.

“The dog seemed to have a great desire for the Goodyear tire on my front wheel,” Baker explained, dryly adding, “But my desire for this time was still greater!”

The dog was relentless and kept lunging at the tire until it became tangled in the wheel, and caused Baker to fly off the bike. It crashed hard, but he crashed even harder. He slid along on his knees and elbows.

“I kept the tire,” he said, “and the dog lost his life.”

Baker got his bike running again, but he needed a doctor. Reaching Ellsworth, a doctor attended him and bandaged his wounds.

Would Baker rest up a couple of days? It would do him good, the doctor advised. Speck Warner also tried to get Baker to take it easy.

Baker wouldn’t hear of it. “I had a good meal,” he said, “and went to bed.”

The next morning, he was up early, on his bike, and speeding toward Missouri – like a Cannonball.

(P.S. The group of riders re-creating Baker’s trip 100 years later rode into Kansas City today, soaked from a severe thunderstorm. But themselves still unstoppable.)

Jerry Garrett

May 10, 2014



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